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October 11, 2011

UK media regulators launch parents’ website, but ISPs say controls won’t make a difference

ISPs clarify that new controls will be applicable for only new customers, not all Internet users as reported widely

By CBR Staff Writer

Communications watchdog Ofcom has announced that UK media regulators has joined hands to launch ParentPort, a new website developed to a single point of contact for parents who want to complain about ‘sexualised’ or inappropriate content.

Ofcom said on its website, "ParentPort (www.parentport.org.uk) has been set up to make it easier for parents to complain about material they have seen or heard across the media, communications and retail industries."

It has been created in response to Reg Bailey’s Independent Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood, said Ofcom.

Speaking at a No.10 summit, Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said: "Seven UK media regulators have come together to develop a single website, with a single aim – to help protect children from inappropriate material…We have already tested the website with parents and the feedback has been positive."

Mothers’ Union chief executive Reg Bailey said: "I am really encouraged that all the regulators have got together to produce ParentPort in a relatively short time since my review. This will be one place where parents can make their voices heard and tell businesses and broadcasters if they feel they have overstepped the line in what is appropriate for children.

"Parents told me that they often didn’t know who to complain to or whether anything would be done as a result of their complaint. Parents are the best judges of what is acceptable for children so it’s important we all take their views more seriously," added Bailey.

The website has been jointly developed by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD), the BBC Trust, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), the Office of Communications (Ofcom), the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and the Video Standards Council (VSC)/Pan-European Game Information (PEGI).

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The announcement comes after reports claimed that Prime Minister David Cameron would ask media companies and regulators to find ways to curb sexualised content in media, and particularly online media as he hosted a No 10 meeting with the Mothers’ Union on Tuesday. Cameron is believed to have urged regulators to set up a parents’ website.

Yesterday, the Daily Mail said that prime minister "is holding a summit at No.10 today with 30 media and retail executives, including broadcasters, magazine editors, trade bodies and advertisers."

The report added that Cameron was expected to announce the crackdown after Mothers Union charity chief executive Reg Bailey submitted a report on the matter after six months of study.

Bailey’s recommendations included providing parents with a website where they can register and track complains, putting age restrictions on music videos and ensuring retailers offer age-appropriate clothes for children.

In June, Cameron wrote to Bailey saying, "I very much agree with the central approach you set out."

The letter said, "As you say, we should not try and wrap children up in cotton wool or simply throw our hands up and accept the world as it is. Instead, we should look to put ‘the brakes on an unthinking drift towards ever-greater commercialisation and sexualisation’."

Following the report, a ban could be implemented on children of up to 15 being employed as ‘brand ambassadors’ or in peer-to-peer marketing campaigns, said the Daily Mail.

As part of the crackdown on the sexualisation of childhood, four leading Internet service providers will be asked to offer customers the option to block adult content at the point of subscription. Those who want to visit pornographic sites will first have to ‘opt in’, said the report.

It was also reported that under the new measures, BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin will offer the protection for smartphones, laptops and PCs.

However, the four major ISPs, which between them have 17.6 million of the 19.2 million broadband customers in the UK, were quick to clarify. They said that, unlike what most reports say, new Web controls will only apply to people taking out completely new contracts.

They insist that the vast majority of customers will see "absolutely no difference" to their Web content.

A source at one of the four ISPs told the Guardian, "Customers will have to choose one or the other, but we won’t be making either one the default." A spokesperson for TalkTalk said: "This is called ‘active choice’ rather than an opt-in or opt-out."

The ISPs have also clarified that users who change to a different tier of connection within the same service will not be obliged to change the setting, according to the Guardian.

The ISPs said that they "have committed to improve the way they communicate to customers, enabling parents to make simple and well-informed choices about installing and activating parental controls and other measures to protect children online. The four ISPs are working with parents’ groups and children’s charities on this important initiative and will continue to do so."

However, as very few people take new contracts or change providers, the new initiative announced by Cameron is unlikely to make a significant difference. Moreover, questions have been raised about how the new filters will be implemented.

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